CAPSULE: Cindy Kline is a filmmaker fascinated by her parents' dysfunctional marriage. In a previous film, TIL DEATH DO US PART (1998, a 20-minute short), she interviewed her parents trying to get to the core of what made their relationship so rocky. Later following the death of her father she could get more from her mother about their problems. Now she can tell a more complete story in PHYLLIS AND HAROLD. Ironically, what she tells us of her parents and what we can see are diametrically opposed. Cindy's conclusions are directly at odds with the evidence on the screen, and the entire story is surprisingly compelling for such a modest effort. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Over the years when she was growing up, Cindy Kline and her sister Ricky were caught in the battles between her parents. Outwardly they seemed at one time an attractive couple. Harold's profession as a dentist allowed them to live very comfortably and to travel extensively throughout the world. They should have been an ideal pairing. But secretly and not so secretly they were in a constant state of conflict. Cindy interviews the two of them and tries to put some meaning onto the discord. The two seem opposites. Harold is quiet and at least in front of the camera is easy going. Phyllis is talkative and acerbic. From early in the film a pattern becomes clear. Phyllis's descriptions are punctuated with sharp verbal jabs at Harold. Harold stoically takes the abuse and gives none back.
For example, Phyllis will say Harold would send "what he considered love letters." Apparently they did not meet her high standards for what constitutes "love letters." Through the years she benefitted from being married to Harold, but usually escaped from any responsibilities as part of the relationship. In the early days when Harold was struggling financially, Phyllis spent weeks looking for a job and then quit the job she found after only one day. She has children by Harold, but then does not want to raise them herself and hires a nanny. For ten years Cindy was closer to the nanny than she was to Phyllis.
In the interviews Phyllis complains about Harold's supposed bad behavior and his faults. Harold says nothing about Phyllis that is not sympathetic. He is proud of his accomplishments, his investments, and how he can provide for his family. He is a simple man and something of a romantic, supporting his wife and ignoring the digs.
The film takes some twists. Apparently Phyllis had an affair with a married man with whom she is still in love. The daughters tell her she should have followed her love without much consideration to what it would have done to their family, especially their father. Little incidents boil up from the past. Cindy as a young girl sees a baby and her mother has to tell her that babies do not stay cute for long and they grow into ugly teenagers. Phyllis throughout is domineering and self-obsessed. Even as Cindy makes the film she seems unable to see how destructive Phyllis was. If Harold has a similar negative side, we see little of it in the film. He may be clumsy, but he is a romantic.
The film has the uneven style that might be expected of an inexperience filmmaker. We get some makeshift animation that may be intended to lighten the tone. It is mostly of the photographic style that Terry Gilliam would use for the early Monty Python episodes. Somehow it seems like it belongs in another, perhaps lighter, film. Some of the sound recording is crudely done and a little hard to understand. Some of the scenes go on too long without giving us new information. The use of home movies intercut with the scenes of the present are a familiar touch and the home movies could have been better chosen, but they give a feel for the time period of the narrative.
Cindy Klein give us a picture of herself as a woman who grew up in a household that had the assumption that it is the husband's responsibility to make the wife happy, but not the reverse. She seems unaware that she maintains that prejudice throughout the film, and it may reflect badly on her, but it gives the film its interest. I rate PHYLLIS AND HAROLD a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1382323/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper